Kingdom Hearts has established a legacy not only thanks to its melodramatic storytelling and absurdly convoluted web of worlds and characters, but also because of its transcendent original score and downright beautiful approach to ensuring that it plays an integral part in how we connect to Tetsuya Nomura’s beloved crossover.
Now, a rhythm adventure has come along which will act as a rhythmic celebration of the franchise, bringing together almost two decades worth of gaming experiences and picking out their very best music to be highlighted. I recently spent time with a brief yet excellent demo that showed exactly what Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is all about, and it’s something that I’m sure hardcore fans will absolutely adore.
Sadly, I haven’t seen nearly enough to explain what you can expect beyond the basic mechanics and moment-to-moment rhythm action, but Square Enix has promised that this is far more than a side distraction. In fact, it is set to explore a deeper part of Kairi’s character and address the lingering plot threads left behind by Kingdom Hearts 3 and its infamous expansion’s cliffhanger.
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Developed by the same studio behind Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, Melody of Memory has a lot in common with this franchise, taking the same approach to gameplay as you tackle notes from the ground, air and across a selection of gorgeously rendered worlds from the Kingdom Hearts universe. Levels come in three forms: Field Battle, Memory Dive and Boss Battles, with the playable demo only featuring the very first alongside a quartet of tracks.
You and three characters, who will change depending on where the song you’re playing originates from, automatically sprint forward as a barrage of notes and enemies approach alongside the music. It’s your job to slash, jump and cast spells to eliminate them, accruing oodles of points along the way. It gives off an aura of being easy to learn but deviously difficult to master, which is my favourite sort of rhythm game.
On PS4, notes are locked to L1, R1 and one of the face buttons, which took a little bit of getting used to, but quickly establishes itself as a simple yet intuitive way of dancing along with each song. Knowing exactly which lane each enemy occupies as they charge towards you can be confusing at first, since you’ll need to use the right button to dispatch them or risk taking damage, although I imagine mastering this will come with time I didn’t have in just a handful of songs.
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The full game will also have a campaign mode known as “World Tour” which aims to retell The Dark Seeker Saga from the perspective of Kairi, finally giving the heroine a chance to shine beyond being a glorified damsel in distress. She will narrate the events of each game for the player, providing a new perspective that will take into account her own personal experiences that we’ve never had a chance to see before.
As a Kingdom Hearts fan with a soft spot for Kairi, this is the sort of narrative I’ve always wanted to see from the series, expanding upon a convoluted sequence of events that many players may have never seen before. Given that the game aims to retell the entire franchise’s events with minimal fluff, this could also be a worthwhile entry point for newcomers before the inevitable arrival of Kingdom Hearts 4, or whatever Tetsuya Nomura decides to call it.
You aren’t just passively tapping away at a trio of buttons to achieve victory, a number of deeper combat mechanics have been woven into each song which provide an extra layer of welcome challenge. Some foes will require multiple button presses to take down, making it necessary to track their own individual place in the rhythm to avoid missing a note, while you’ll sometimes need to fly into the air and tackle a track of notes whilst also ensuring other characters on the ground are keeping themselves busy.
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The true appeal of Melody of Memory will come from revisiting your favourite worlds, characters and events from previous games, although I hope they’re able to carry a similar level of emotional impact, which honestly might be impossible for newcomers. But that doesn’t really matter, the music is wonderful, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see Yoko Shimomura’s catalogue of brilliant orchestral work being highlighted here. We just hope the Atlantis karaoke tracks aren’t being included.
Melody of Memory will also feature a co-op mode, although I’ve it’s sadly not part of the demo. It will have two players taking on the roles of Sora and Riku as they compete for the highest score across a series of different songs. The Nintendo Switch version will also feature an exclusive battle royale mode, making it the one to buy for those who want the complete package alongside the opportunity to play on the move. I’ll likely opt for the PS4 release, being a series purist and having an irrational love of earning digital trophies.
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Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is honestly sitting alongside Cyberpunk 2077 and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales as my most anticipated games of the year, which speaks volumes to how much I genuinely adore this franchise and the stories it has managed to tell over the years.
Melody of Memory is a loving homage to this legacy, aiming to honour almost two decades of absurd excellence whilst also forging a new path forward. If any franchise is going to make a rhythm game an integral part of its overall plot, it’s Kingdom Hearts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you fancy trying the demo out for yourself, it arrives on October 15 across PS4, Xbox One and Switch.